Why are there sheep and ponies on our Forest of Dean nature reserves?

Friday 3rd November 2017

Ponies grazing at The Park nature reservePonies grazing at The Park nature reserve

The Forest of Dean is one of the most important areas for wildlife in the UK. Find out about why we're reintroducing traditional grazing, using ponies and sheep, on a number of our sites at a special event on Sunday 12 November at 2pm at Forest High School ‘Spotlight’ Assembly Hall in Cinderford.

You will hear from the Forestry Commission and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust about the benefits of conservation grazing and how it will be delivered, as well as having the opportunity to go on a guided walk around Edgehills nature reserve to see how conservation grazing works in practice.

The Forest of Dean is one of the most important areas for wildlife in the UK, supporting habitats and species of national and European significance.

Over the next five years Foresters’ Forest, a £2.5m Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Programme to raise awareness and participation in the built, natural and cultural heritage in the Forest of Dean, aims to conserve and enhance wildlife in the Forest by creating areas of open habitat, especially heathland, and maintaining it through grazing using a variety of livestock.

Since the reduction of natural grazing animals the Forest has seen a decline in species such as the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, which formerly occurred at over 50 sites in the Forest. Sadly, it is now only found on two nature reserves due to the loss of open habitat.

Three nature reserves, currently managed by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, have been identified for expansion – Wigpool, Woorgreens and Edgehills. These reserves have been selected as they already centre on established heathland, with wildlife that would benefit the most from the introduction of conservation grazing to link existing habitats, making the reserves larger and more viable.

“The Foresters’ Forest project has enabled our work to restore these nature reserves to leap forward. We have trialled the use of Exmoor ponies and Hebridean sheep at two of our nature reserves, including Edgehills, and look forward to developing the Conservation Grazing project,” says Kevin Caster, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserve manager.

Rebecca Wilson, Forestry Commission, Head of Planning & Environment, said: “The Forestry Commission are welcoming this exciting opportunity to return grazing animals into the Forest of Dean, creating a diverse and interesting mosaic of open and wooded habitat for the benefit of both people visiting the site and rare wildlife including nightjar and woodlark.”

Please come along to the meeting to find out more about conservation grazing and how you can get involved, plus hear more about the wider Foresters’ Forest programme. Tea / coffee and cake will be available, and anyone wishing to go on the guided walk is advised to wear sturdy shoes and warm clothing.

If you wish to attend please email julie.godfrey@forestry.gsi.gov.uk or book direct through www.conservation-grazing.eventbrite.co.uk.